Stillness Big Year: Is mindfulness as good as probiotics or kale?

Seven weeks of ten minutes a day of Headspace . . . so what? An evolving set of short meditation exercises is impacting  me, but exactly how? At one level, I thoroughly look forward to my mini oasis of stillness and quiet, and I think I’m absorbing a meditation practice quite well. Perhaps that should be enough.

Or should I aspire to more? The adherents of mindfulness offer such evangelical promise! Meditation, like miraculous diet discoveries and superfood, can cure all ills, or so I have read. Like most geeks, I’m scurrilously skeptical, so my instinct is to diss all such claims, but maybe I’m wrong. Now that I seem to have settled well into ten minutes of meditation a day, shouldn’t I attempt longer sessions? Should I at least read up more on mindfulness?

Stillness Big Year: My daily oasis

This experimental Big Year is, so far, a genuine success story. Every day I’ve carved out ten minutes (not nearly as easy as it sounds) from my afternoon to sit still and listen to sequential episodes of the Headspace app. I’ve worked through 30 days of basics and am now progressing through a 30-day Sleep module. It’s a great feeling to look forward to less than a quarter hour of genuine stillness.

That said, let me add a caveat. My grand 2018 idea was that a bit of meditation, allied to the steady disciplines of my Freshness Big Year, would produce a new Andres, vigorous but at peace, ready to work well and live well. Well, that hasn’t happened. Daily Headspace hasn’t, so far at least, made much practical difference. Luckily I have eleven months to go!

Stillness Big Year: Day 5

For five days in a row, mostly in the second half of the afternoon, I’ve plonked myself in this chair or that, and done my 10 minutes of meditation using the superb Headspace app. I managed a greater number of days in a row a couple of times last year, but this time is different. I feel committed and that spirit of involvement finds me looking forward to my 360 seconds of stillness. If the next 360 Headspace experiences is as good as my first five, I’ve stumbled onto something most enjoyable.

Stillness: The old fast, slow, fast, slow conundrum

As part of 2018’s Stillness Big Year, I’ll flail around the topics of meditation, peacefulness, “mindfulness,” and calmness. Nothing systematic, just keeping my antennae raised because I’m spending ten minutes daily on Headspace.

Hurry Slowly is Jocelyn Glei’s just-launched podcast “about how you can be more productive, creative, and resilient through the simple act of slowing down.” I’m type A/C, alternatively manic and torpid, always fussing over whether to work too hard or to creatively laze around, so I’ll tune in.

The first episode is an interview with Jason Fried, an astute software company head who, for one thing, keeps his company’s working hours to 40 (32 in summer!). For me, where I am right now, the take home message is my power to allocate my own time in many different ways. Don’t let others take time from you, that’s another idea (not a new one but innovatively and vigorously expressed and implemented). Check it out, I’m sure you’ll find something useful.

Hello, Big Year: Stillness

Is it ridiculous to obsess for 10 minutes a day? In this case, no. Over various periods, I have enjoyed the marvellous Headspace meditation app, but I’ve never stuck at it. Something in me resists all the entreaties about mindfulness – I like my restless brain – but I recognize the need to find some peace in every packed 2018 day. So I’m going to listen to the app, 10 minutes is all it takes, every day of the year. I can cart it with me even when on the road, so there is no reason (other than my inconstancy) why I should miss a day.

I’m calling this Stillness, around the notion of finding quiet and peace and repose amidst the storm of life, and I’ll use the Stillness Big Year as an excuse to ponder the role and efficacy of meditation.

Andres’s Big Decade: How to obsess in 2018

I can’t wait for 2018! So much is going on in the lives of me and my family and friends. For the third Big Year (I’m turning 63 next year) in my Big Decade, I’ll swing at four obsessions. They range from all-consuming to “should be simple to fit in.” Not all details are settled yet but here’s 2018’s framework (beyond the joy of life itself):

1,000 Big Year

The nuclear power history book is still my albatross. After a maddeningly ineffective 2017 attempt to frame my writing push, in 2018 I focus on process and output. For each day in 43 weeks*, I draft 1,000 words (4 pages); draft uninterrupted between 5 AM and noon; ban morning Facebook and emails; micro plan, monitor & review.

You’ll note none of the “finish this or that by such-and-such date” project plans I’ve issued over the last two years and then clawed back. That doesn’t mean I won’t plan. I will and I’ll publicize in order to increase my accountability.

Tractor Big Year

Huh, you say? The working title for the book is Reactor but you don’t suck the life out of a title by using it all year. Hence Tractor, rhymes with Reactor? For each day in 43 weeks, I spend an afternoon hour researching, planning, readying for, and executing publication of Reactor.

Freshness Big Year

In 2016 I jogged a lot. This year I’ve tackled “fitness” by introducing cycling and arriving at an “exercise daily” regimen that works. Next year I’ll still exercise daily but at slightly lower intensity, plus I’ll address alcohol, diet, and insomnia.

“Freshness” is code for wellness, energy, and vigor. Note that 2018 can’t be the year to cycle huge distances, to do much tough or long-distance hiking (with one notable exception), to race, or to speed up. Instead I’m setting artificially strict regulations for 52 or 43 or 39 weeks (depending on which rule). I’m sure you’ll be amused at this quirky list:

  • 90/30/3 – each week, and only in the afternoons, exercise 9 times, cycling 90 kms, jogging 30 kms, and gym’ing 3 times. (Annual targets are 3,000 kms, 1,200 kms, 100 gyms.)
  • M-W AFDs + 14 – absolutely no alcohol for the first three days of each and every week, and no more than 14 standard drinks per week.
  • 2 alarms – each and every day, set an alarm to go to sleep and one to rise.
  • No snacking cheese – each and every day, stay away from cheese platters (cheese in recipes is fine).
  • No afternoon snacking at home – each and every day.

Stillness Big Year

“Stillness” is code for mindfulness, meditation, peacefulness, etc., etc. I could have called this the Headspace Big Year, but Headspace is a commercial product. I commit to spending 10 minutes each and every day following guided meditation according to the Headspace app.

Conclusion

Doing four Big Years flirts with overstretching but I believe I’ve structured the obsessions suitably. One big year, the most important one, carries a massive time commitment. Two of the four require an hour or two a day. The final one only takes ten minutes a day.

I’m now deep into practice for each of 2018’s four challenges, so that I can leap out of the gates on January 1.

2018 is bound to be a fascinating twelve months. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s also joyous, effective, and balanced.

 

* Travel and family commitments mean that, depending on which Big Year is involved, 2018 is 52 weeks or 43 weeks or 39 weeks.